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Visual fields in hornbills: precision-grasping and sunshades

Authors

  • Graham R. Martin,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Biosciences, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK
      *Corresponding author.
      E-mail: G.R.Martin@bham.ac.uk
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  • Hendri C. Coetzee

    1. Ground Hornbill Research and Conservation Project, Private Bag X1644, Warmbaths, 0480, Republic of South Africa
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*Corresponding author.
E-mail: G.R.Martin@bham.ac.uk

Abstract

Retinal visual fields were determined in Southern Ground Hornbills Bucorvus leadbeateri and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills Tockus leucomelas (Coraciiformes, Bucerotidae) using an ophthalmoscopic reflex technique. In both species the binocular field is relatively long and narrow with a maximum width of 30° occurring 40° above the bill. The bill tip projects into the lower half of the binocular field. This frontal visual field topography exhibits a number of key features that are also found in other terrestrial birds. This supports the hypothesis that avian visual fields are of three principal types that are correlated with the degree to which vision is employed when taking food items, rather than with phylogeny. However, unlike other species studied to date, in both hornbill species the bill intrudes into the binocular field. This intrusion of the bill restricts the width of the binocular field but allows the birds to view their own bill tips. It is suggested that this is associated with the precision-grasping feeding technique of hornbills. This involves forceps-like grasping and manipulation of items in the tips of the large decurved bill. The two hornbill species differ in the extent of the blind area perpendicularly above the head. Interspecific comparison shows that eye size and the width of the blind area above the head are significantly correlated. The limit of the upper visual field in hornbills is viewed through the long lash-like feathers of the upper lids and these appear to be used as a sunshade mechanism. In Ground Hornbills eye movements are non-conjugate and have sufficient amplitude (30–40°) to abolish the frontal binocular field and to produce markedly asymmetric visual field configurations.

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